The Realtree Fishing KBF Challenge Series powered by Dakota Lithium Batteries is a series for everyone. It’s where beginners learn Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) fishing and it’s also where veteran anglers warm up or compete for state points titles every season. Most of all, it is for the everyday anglers who want to compete but who cannot consistently travel the long distances.
Every so often, one of those anglers earns a spot in a big event and shocks the world. Mike Elsea did just that when he won the 2019 KBF National Championship after only fishing in the Challenge Series. In short, the Challenge Series is for the dreamers.
The 2023 KBF Challenge Series Championship was held on lakes Guntersville and Wheeler in Alabama, and the anglers who dreamed big also fished big.
Garrett Wade isn’t exactly new to the sport. “Recent” is perhaps the better adjective. He started out as the Rogue Gear Co 2021 Challenge Series Angler of the Year, and today he competes at every level of the national scene. A consistent threat, he has a long list of impressive finishes. And yet while he won that KBF points race in 2021, he had not won a major tournament trophy. That is, not until this week.
As he told KBF: “I’ve been in fourth and fifth place at some big events, including the KBF National Championship in 2021, but I didn’t have the hardware to show for a big win. It finally happened, and I racked up this week.”
In doing so, Wade also qualified for Dee Zee KBF the TEN, and also won another Challenge Series Angler of the Year title. But it’s how he won the first place trophy that matters most.
Day One: October 19, 2023
Wade had done advance scouting for the event. In August, he told KBF, he and a friend stopped at Guntersville while on their way to fish an event in Nashville. As he put it:
“I fished Guntersville for the KBF Trail last year, and had a mediocre finish. So we checked some other areas, and we found a spot in the back of a creek. I checked it the day before the tournament, and the water was low. I got worried, but I knew the fish would be there somewhere.
“Then I saw Rus Snyders launching as I left. Well, it turns out that four of us showed up there on tournament day. It was me, Rus, Casey Reed and Justin Faircloth. We all went to the TEN, except for Justin, who had the area all to himself on Saturday.”
Faircloth posted a 20.75” bass to the leaderboard early on day one. It was an omen of things to come from that area. Over the next few days, Snyders and Wade would become involved in some epic battles, with Snyders dominating day one on the other leaderboards – but not the KBF Challenge Series.
But it did not start that way. By 9:30 a.m. central time, Alex Miller led the field with 91.75” (followed by Kristine Fischer with 87.75”) on the KBF Challenge Series leaderboard. Pennsylvania’s Lynn Yester also made her case. Kayak bass fishing on the KBF Trail and Challenge Series since 2021, Yester refused to be intimidated by the veteran crowd, posting a strong bag that had her in the top 10 through the mid-morning.
In the meantime, Garrett Wade had figured some things out.
“I started early back in the creek. I missed a fe won a frig, then switched to a Z-Man Mini-Max hcatterbait. I caught a bunch of 15” bass, then headed out to the main area. I eventually culled every fish that I caught in the creek, and my last fish of the day was a 20”. I feel like if I had not gone in that creek, I would have done better.”
Wade finished the day with 88.5”, in ninth place. As the day wore one, another angler emerged atop the Challenge Series leaderboard. While Rus Snyders was atop the other event leaderboards, Snyders did not register for the KBF Challenge Series Championship. Conversely, the angler who finished atop the leaderboard at the end of Day one did not register for the Trail Series Championship.
That angler was Brian Shotts. Thursday ended with Brian Shotts leading the Challenge Series Championship. A rookie to the KBF Challenge Series, could he do what Mike Elsea did in 2019 and win a major event after qualifying through the on-line series?
Day Two: Friday, October 20, 2023
You probably did not see it coming at the start of Day Two, but Eric Jackson and Garrett Wade were setting up to have a heavyweight big bass showdown. Wade had finished in ninth place and Jackson in thirteenth on day one. Eyes were on other anglers who seemed to have momentum.
But multi-day events are not won on the first day. On Friday, every angler’s cumulative score would aggregate on the Fishing Chaos leaderboards.
Thursday began fast, and so did Friday. In the first hour of fishing Kristine Fischer had put a 20” bass on the Bass Forecast leaderboard. Jimmy McClurkan, Fischer and Jody Queen held the top three spots on the combined (two-day) Challenge Series leaderboard.
One hour later, Lynn Yester occupied third place on the Challenge Series standings. Yester had made a strong early run on Thursday, and continued a strong showing as the leaderboards began to light up (Yester finished 28th overall). The early bite and movements in the standings suggested it would be a long, wild day.
In the meantime, Garrett Wade was figuring things out in his heavily pressured area. He told KBF:
“I had my limit early. I found this one dock later and cast to the very back, by the crossbeams, and a 19” hit it. I had to find new fish because so many limits ere caught back there, so I looked in the back of the docks. I caught that 19” around 11 a.m. I looked at the leaderboard and I was leading everything. I was like ‘this tournament needs to be over’ but I knew I had to keep fishing. I kept catching fish but they were all 16” and 17”. I probably caught three limits and didn’t post one fish….”
Roughly 90 minutes into fishing, Eric Jackson had a 19.75” bass on the Bass Forecast daily big bass leaderboard. With all of the movement, Jackson might have been easy to overlook. As the day wore on, however, his name kept rising through the standings. At the halfway mark of day two, the top five in the Challenge Series and the Trail Series had changed dramatically.
Now, Garrett Wade occupied first place, with Eric Jackson in second place. Hartman and Fischer had spots three and four, while Indiana angler Mike Elsea had fifth place. Overall, Wade, Jackson, Elsea and Fischer had the top four spots, with Jaxton Orr making a run in the late morning, too. The Challenge Series standings looked much the same, the exception being Matt Crites taking the five spot there, only to be replaced by Ryan Nye in the overall standings.
If you blinked, you missed a change. The automated Realtree Fishing KBF Trail Series leaderboard, which tracks to points on Fishing Chaos and determines the Rogue Gear Co Angler of the Year standings, was earning its money.
In the meantime, Garrett Wade and Eric Jackson were trading big fish. Where Wade was leading the Trail Series Day Two leaderboard in hour four with 92.25”, Eric Jackson counter-punched and took the lead in hour five, climbing from a 90.5” to 93.25” and then to 95.5”. At that point, Wade still held the overall lead with 180”, but Jackson was only 1” behind him. Mike Elsea, Kristine Fischer and Justin Largen occupied spots three, four and five, respectively.
Blink again, and something changed again.
Garret Wade made his way back to the dock where he landed the 19”.
“With about thirty minutes left, I came back. I made the same cast and skipped the chatterbait way in the back, and that 20” came up. That was the one.”
Wade would ultimately post a day 2 total of 94.75”. It would be good enough for second place in the daily Challenge Series Championship and third place in the Trail Series Championship events, respectively. Eric Jackson would finish atop both day 2 leaderboards.
In the end, however, it was Garrett Wade’s strong finishes at the end of each day that set him up as the event champion. His two day total was an impressive 183.25”. Josh Stewart finished in second place, with 180.5”. It was not a huge margin of victory, but it was comfortable.
Not that it ever feels that way. Wade told KBF: “I did not lose a single fish that mattered. I was blessed to land them all, even the ones that wrapped around docks.”
In the end, Wade got the trophy he was hoping to win, and by winning the event he qualified to fish a third day with Dee Zee KBF The TEN.
Garret Wade is sponsored by Dakota Lithium Batteries, Dugout Bait & Tackle, Gorilla Gloves and Firm Grip. Follow his youtube fishing channel at https://www.youtube.com/@garrettwadefishing
The KBF Trail Series Championship, TENvitational and Challenge Series Championship were hosted by Go2Hunstville, AL on October 19-20, 2023.
For complete standings, click here: https://app.fishingchaos.com/tournament/qn93uabFJOFzwtIqhZ0g
About the KBF Trail: The Realtree Fishing KBF Challenge Series powered by Dakota Lithium is a 5-fish, Catch-Photo-Release, members-only tournament series. Become a KBF member today and get ready for the 2024 season!
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First Published October 22, 2023. The author of this article was not assisted in any way by AI or machine learning in the composition of it.
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